Last year I got to know Anders* over a coffee here in Perth. He and his girlfriend, Astrid were backpacking around Australia and taking an extended stay over here to the West in before the start of the Manjimup Truffle Hunting Season having come West after the end of the Berri Citrus Picking Season.
They told me they were intending to do some camping around the South West, trekking along the Bibbulmun Track heading down towards Albany.
I jokingly told them it was safer to walk to Albany than to swim there as we have had a spate of Great White Shark fatalities along our beaches over the past few months. Although I did warn them of the Tiger Snakes and Dugites.
They seemed pretty cool with the whole trip and had done all the research and were well equipped.
Before I go any further, I need to show something I mentioned some years ago. The key quote is in the graphic on the right. So there is no certainty that this post, or that this blog will last in the short of medium term. I will be expecting a knock on the door shortly after this is posted.
Anyway, back to this rather sad tale.
I mentioned that along the track, they should take care and not only watch the ground for snakes but also the trees for drop bears. From their quizzical looks I could tell that no one had warned them about this little known but dangerous beast. This was, as I explained, understandable. After all, the Government restrictions on talking about them to overseas visitors are drummed into us from a young age.
As Aussies it is second nature from that young age to not only keep an eye on the ground for snakes but also to keep an eye on the branches of any trees under which we pass. Not all those lumps we see there are simple cankers or friendly scrub pythons.
The coffee was finished, addresses and emails were exchanged and we went our separate ways.
I sent several emails to Anders but did not receive an answer. I mentally shrugged my shoulders and went on with life.
It was about a year later that I received a snail mail letter from Astrid. She was distraught! Something had happened to them on the Bibbulmun Track. Anders had met a terrible death and Astrid had been held in a secret location by “The Authorities”. It was only after she had signed many pieces of paper promising never to tell of the events surrounding Anders’ death that she was allowed to leave Australia.
Included in the letter was photograph. Astrid wrote that she had taken the SD card from Anders’ camera after she had found – - well, after. She was able to secretly hang onto that card and the photo in the letter was the last image Anders had taken. He must have looked up just too late!
Luckily the archive is only read here in Australia so I think I am free to publish that photo. It won’t be seen by anyone outside so technically, I am not breaking the “Don’t tell the tourists” law.
I sometimes wish statistics of such fatalities were kept in the same way shark attacks are kept. Made available to the general public, lives could be saved. It is a pity that without those statistics, we will never know just how many could be saved!
However the “Authorities” have worked out just how much tourism revenue we will lose should the true facts ever become known!
I shall now wait, dreading a possible knock on my door. If you don’t hear from me soon, or should the archive disappear, then you may draw some rather bad conclusions!
* Names have been changed to avoid some of the repercussions
Spending a quiet Saturday afternoon watching some football on TV and reading emails - multi-tasking whoohoo - I suddenly had a feeling of being watched!
I looked up from the computer, through a glass door and between me and the view was – - -
Grabbing the camera, I started snapping, staying away from the glass. The visitor was aware something was happening but wasn’t alarmed.
He decided to check out the menu. We suffer from a plague of feral pigeons so there is plenty in the pantry.
Looking at the balconies above and below.
Then he had a final check to see if I may have been edible.
And off he flew. No, that bit was too fast for me to catch.
So. Who was he?
At first glance I had assumed it was a juvenile Australian Hobby from the family which I have seen chasing dinner over the past few months. Then I spotted the nice yellow eye and thought it may be a Collared Sparrowhawk which I last had close contact with while I was in the desert. There were the scruffy feathers around the top of the legs but there was no collar!
Close study of my reference books finally gave me the truth. A juvenile male collared Sparrowhawk. Those bars below the chest give its age and the age precludes a collar.
When I was young, I remember, as all good stories begin, living in the Perth suburb of Bentley in the middle of last century. Opposite one of the many pine plantations which dotted the outer Perth landscape. My brother broke his arm one day, climbing those trees. We walked through them every day on our way to play cricket “down on the oval”.
We never took much notice of the wildlife there.
That was in the days before I knew the term “Monoculture”.
There were probably snakes, but we never saw them. There were some blue-tongued skinks which were too slow to get out of our way. In Spring I remember hearing the song of the Pallid Cuckoo although it was never seen. There were magpies and mudlarks and occasional flashes of green as 28′s, the ring-necked parrots, flew past.
Then there were the Black Cockies. Large, noisy flocks of Black Cockies!
In Spring and Autumn both Red and White Tailed Cockatoos would fly over head, in flocks of hundreds and thousands. If they were Red Tailed Cockies then we knew it was going to rain!
We never cared what the “Experts” said. We just knew that rain was on the way if those black cockies were flying inland.
In flocks a hundred yards wide and hundreds of yards long, these screeching, noisy birds would fly overhead.
A “yard”? That is an “old-person” word which meant a “metre”.
For me they were an matter of slight interest. They flew over, they flew back. They were noisy and yet they connected us all with nature.
The orchardists were not happy with them. It was way back in 1925 that the first warning signs appeared. Mr Alfred Burvill, MLC for the Albany/Mt Barker district (I went to High School with his grand daughter – hello Muriel) was reported as saying;
Black Cockatoos became so unpopular that a bounty was placed on their head.
Declared vermin, they were in the same category as Dingoes and Foxes. And the menace was seen not only on the South Coast but also in the heart of the South-West.
Somehow those hungry, pesky Black Cockies kept reappearing every year.
While guns could remove a few each year, their main food supply, and their breeding grounds were in the untracked expanses of the South West Marri, Jarrah and Karri forests. This was where there were nice deep holes in the trunks of mature and dead Eucalypts for these birds to use as nests. The numbers of Black Cockatoos, both red and white tailed, continued to be large.
Then something different happened and, while not aimed at the Cockatoos, life in the forest began to disappear. While trees had been being cut from the forests for more than a hundred years, the damage caused was small. Big old trees were left. The nesting places were safe.
Until Bunnings and Millars began using a new method of harvesting called “Clear-felling”. This was, and is, what it says. An area of several hectares of Karri or Jarrah is cleared in a single day, using bulldozers and chains. Everything, even the oldest trees are destroyed. All the habitats for native bird, mammal and reptile life is destroyed. The timber, much of which is several hundred years old, is turned into wood chips and sold off for around $13 a Tonne!
Adding to this destruction is the newer industry of strip mining which does the same thing. Now the Marri forests near Capel are being destroyed. These were the final hopes for this rapidly disappearing bird.
There are almost no Black Cockatoos left in the wild. So few to fly across our sky.
I now live in Maylands, North of the Swan River and I have a flock of 5! Yes! FIVE red tails which fly past. Almost the last of the thousands which lived in an around the Metropolitan area.
It is easier to see these beautiful birds in captivity than it is to see them in the wild where each year there are less.
The top photo in this story was taken at Whiteman Park and I have seen more captive birds in the Perth Zoo. There are probably other bird parks and private zoos with more of this wild bird held captive in cages.
Yet it could be that this is the only way we will be able to stop its extinction.
By keeping them in cages until our current “destroy and develop” madness has ended and then releasing their descendants back into the wild. Or maybe creating thousands of artificial tree hollows in the areas which are now empty wastelands, or along the fence-lines of the farmers’ paddocks.
Perhaps my Great Grand Children will have the pleasure of seeing future flocks of Calyptorhynchus banksii naso in their hundreds.
Sadly, I know I shall never see that sight again.
This one was enjoying itself on a parsley seed head. That won’t stop them from checking out eyes, noses, mouths, plates of food, and dog-droppings!
And to get from one to another they will hitch a ride on the back of your shirt!